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Warsaw Ghetto Uprising

As many of you know, I'm currently preparing for a month long trip to Poland and Germany! There are lots of historical events that I need to be researching before I go, but one of the most important to me is the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising which is the subject of my next book. Since I want to document and share the research journey with you all, I created an Instagram account dedicated to the 75th Anniversary of Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. If you'd like to follow along, go to www.instagram.com/warsawghetto75th

Here are my previous posts: 

“Your mission is to find a way out of the ghetto, to live, and to tell our story.” - Mordechai Anielewicz 

In April 1943, German troops were in the final stages of liquidating the Warsaw Ghetto. Faced with death by deportation to Treblinka, young Jewish fighters took up arms against the Germans and fought courageously for over 28 days. Join me as I research the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising and keep the victims’ stories alive.

"To write was to resist, if only to bring the killers to justice. To write was to complete the defeat of the killers by ensuring that future historians would use the victims cries to change the world.” - Samuel Kassow 

In addition to armed resistance, words were a powerful weapon in the Warsaw Ghetto. Individuals of all ages documented what they endured in a desperate fight for existence so that future generations would know what had happened to the Jews of Warsaw. This is one of the milk cans containing the Oyneg Shabes, the hidden archive of the ghetto created by Emanuel Ringelblum, that would “scream the truth to the world.” The Oyneg Shabes was buried on the eve of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising.

This milk can was unearthed on Nowolipki Street, Warsaw in 1950. If you have a chance to visit the @holocaustmuseum it’s on display on the third floor. 

"Who could have known that this quiet, modest, and sympathetic fellow would emerge as the man who, three years later, would be mentioned with awe by some, with fear by others?" - Emanuel Ringelblum 

24 year old Mordechai Anielewicz was a notable and respected leader of the underground Jewish Fighting Organization (Zydowska Organizacja Bojowa or ZOB). The ZOB was established in July of 1942 to resist deportations to Treblinka concentration camp. 

They received little support from the Jews of Warsaw. Many felt that resistance was impossible and that the ghetto should focus on survival and feeding its inhabitants instead. The ZOB thought only of fighting for Jewish honor. They would not wait for death to take them by starvation, disease, or Treblinka. These were "young men and women in love with life yet determined to fight to the death." 


The White Rose Resistance 75th Anniversary

It is certain that today every honest German is ashamed of his government. Who among us has any conception of the dimensions of shame that will befall us and our children when one day the veil has fallen from our eyes and the most horrible of crimes—crimes that infinitely outdistance every human measure—reach the light of day?

These powerful words were the first of many written in the basement of an artist’s studio in Munich, Germany. It was June, 1942 when two young men serving in the Student Medical Company at the University of Munich, Hans Scholl and Alexander Schmorell, laboriously mimeographed hundreds of anti-Nazi leaflets. They were forming a non-violent, intellectual resistance movement under the name Leaflets of The White Rose.

 Their humble beginnings expanded into a larger group of like-minded resistors including Hans Scholl’s younger sister Sophie, fellow medical students Christoph Probst and Willi Graf, and university professor Kurt Huber. They wrote six original leaflets which appeared in cities throughout Germany, Austria, and even reached the Norwegian underground. They were determined to enlighten the German people on the horrors their government was committing. Each resistor knew the consequence of their actions—execution for committing high treason—but they were willing to risk their lives to defend goodness and truth.

From the time he was young boy, Hans Scholl was an idealist and enthusiastically dove headfirst into his chosen cause. At the time of Hitler’s rise to power, he saw the Nazi party as a chance to be a part of something bigger than himself. Yet, as time went on Hans was disillusioned as his rights were stripped away and he was forced to conform to the Nazi ideal. He became a half student, half soldier, studying medicine at the University of Munich. Hans and his company were sent to France in 1940 and to the Eastern Front in 1942. The Nazi crimes Hans witnessed in France, Poland, and Russia weighed heavily on his conscience.
Hans Scholl, 1942

“It's high time that Christians made up their minds to do something . . . What are we going to show in the way of resistance-as compared to the Communists, for instance-when all this terror is over? We will be standing empty-handed. We will have no answer when we are asked: What did you do about it?” Hans Scholl

Around the same time that Hans Scholl and Alexander Schmorell were pushing the The White Rose resistance into action, Sophie Scholl came to Munich to study at the university. Sophie found out that her brother was one of the authors of The White Rose and demanded that she be allowed to join them. She believed in the cause just as strongly as they did and longed to do something against the regime. The consequences of getting caught were so severe that Hans couldn’t bear to think of that fate befalling his little sister. But Sophie’s strong-will and conviction wouldn’t allow her stay in safety while her brother was in danger.

Sophie Scholl
February 18th, 1943 was a sunny Thursday morning in Munich. Hans and Sophie packed their suitcases full of leaflets, ready to spread their words throughout the University of Munich. It was broad daylight, but they had a missionto stir up a revolt among their fellow students because as Hitler said, “He alone, who owns the youth, gains the future.” While students were in lectures, Hans and Sophie hurried through the empty floors, placing leaflets outside doors, on stairs, beside statues and pillars—any place most visible to the students. As they turned to go, Sophie noticed that they still had a few leaflets left. They ran up to the third floor to distribute more just as the bell rang. In a split second, Sophie placed her hand on a pile of leaflets and pushed them off the banister, a tempest of truth swirling around the students coming from their lectures. They blended into the throng of students, hoping to hide themselves in the chaos.

“You are under arrest!”

Four, piercing words filled the air. The janitor had seen them and turned Hans and Sophie into the Gestapo. They underwent interrogation, but even the Gestapo had a hard time believing the Scholls were guilty because of their calm and self-assured presence. But evidence soon appeared. Hans was carrying a draft of the seventh leaflet on him when he was arrested. It was written by Christoph Probst who, because of his wife and two young boys, had been hesitant to get too deeply entrenched in the resistance. Hans tried to destroy the evidence by ripping it into shreds, but the Gestapo managed to piece it together. They also found a letter from Christoph in Hans desk that matched the writing. Hans, Sophie, and Christoph couldn’t evade the inevitable any longer. They were found guilty of high treason.

"No one can know what secret inner ripening can come from suffering and sorrow. All we know is that every individual’s life is priceless - that each is dear to God."  Christoph Probst
Christoph Probst with his son.

On February 22nd, 75 years ago today, Hans, Sophie, and Christoph were taken to The People’s Court to stand trial before the infamous Nazi judge, Roland Freisler. Hitler was furious when he heard good, intelligent German students were the authors of The White Rose. Hitler personally gave the order to have Roland Freisler oversee this trial. Frisler shouted and mocked them, but they stood their ground and defended their cause even though they knew their fate was sealed before they even stepped into the courtroom.

“Somebody, after all, had to make a start. What we wrote and said is also believed by many others. They just don’t dare to express themselves as we did. You know that the war is lost. Why don’t you have the courage to face it? Sophie Scholl

Hans, Sophie, and Christoph were taken straight to Stadelheim prison and executed by guillotine that same day as a warning to anyone else who dared resist. Hans Scholl was 24, Sophie Scholl 21, and Christoph Probst 23 years old when they were executed. They faced their deaths with strength and dignity. They had no regrets.

“Such a fine sunny day, and I have to go, but what does my death matter, if through us thousands of people are awakened and stirred to action? Sophie Scholl

The White Rose resistance may not have put an immediate end to the Nazi terror, but they showed the world that there was still goodness, humanity, and faith in God abounding in hearts of people throughout Nazi Germany. Today, on the 75th anniversary of their deaths, may we not only honor and remember their bravery, but be inspired by their example to do what’s right in the midst of evil.

Es lebe die freiheit! Those were Hans Scholl’s last words as he was taken to execution.

Long Live Freedom.


Thank you to all those helping me commemorate the 75th anniversary this week by reading and reviewing Resist! Also, Jesseca Wheaton interviewed me on her blog which you can read HERE.

Voices From the Holocaust

In observance of Holocaust Remembrance Day, I put together this video to honor and remember the millions of victims whose voices were silenced.


“They Probably Deserved a Medal"

If you're a long time reader of this blog, you'll probably recognize the name Joe Leo. He's my favorite B-17 waist-gunner and a dear friend. In the summer of 2016 I was given the opportunity to fly in a B-17 from WWII. When I got home I called him up. “Joe, I got to fly in your plane!” The following week we met for coffee and pie to chat about B-17s. We looked over a model B-17 and identified the different positions—pilot, co-pilot, waist gunners, tail gunner, navigator, bombardier, radio man, and engineer. We agreed that neither of us would want to be the ball turret gunner, a brave soul who was scrunched up in a little Plexiglas ball on the belly of the airplane.

While I've shared WWII stories from Joe on the blog before, I wanted to post a quick story about the time he tried lifting a 250-pound bomb out of the bomb bay while flying over Germany. He told me this story before I flew in a B-17 so when I asked him to tell it again after my flight, I gained a whole new respect for what he did!

Joe is standing beside the window where he manned a waist gun.

Joe Leo flew fifteen missions as a B-17 waist gunner during World War II. But there’s one mission Joe will never forget. During a bombing mission over Germany the radio operator discovered that two of the bombs didn’t release. Since they were not allowed to land their aircraft with the bombs, Joe was asked to assist the togglier in releasing them. The two men balanced on the catwalk between the open bomb bay doors, Germany whizzing past 23,000 feet below.

B-17 with the bomb bay doors open. See the catwalk? That's where Joe was!
The bombs were held in the plane by a shackle which was controlled by an electrical system in the nose of the plane. The togglier thought the shackle was stuck. “I went in there with him and we tried to lift the bomb out. I think it was 250-pounder and we couldn’t move it. The bomb bay was open and there wasn’t enough room for us to wear our parachutes. But I had a good hugging on that support beam,” recalls Joe. “My recollection is that we shimmied that thing so much that it made electrical contact and he went back up and flipped the switch and the bombs went. We could see the bombs fall through the sky."

As the pilot of Joe’s B-17 said, “They probably deserved a medal, but all they received was our thanks and an exhilarating experience.”

I asked Joe if he was scared. He told me that he didn't really think about it at the time. He just did his job. That's why they're called the Greatest Generation, folks.


I'm Going on an Adventure!

Happy New Year, friends! As you may have noticed from my sporadic blogging, writing fell by the wayside in 2017. As the year filled up with other commitments and I didn't have time to write, I began to really miss the adventure that comes with researching and writing a novel. One of my goals for 2018 is to write the book I've been thinking about for two years—my Warsaw Ghetto Uprising novel! 2018 isn't shaping into a less busy year by any means, but I'm determined to carve out the time necessary to reach my goal and learn to be ok with writing a book at a slower pace. There's going to be lots of research and adventures involved which I'm excited to share with you!

2018 is a really special year to write my novel because this April marks the 75th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. When the Nazis began deporting Jews from the ghetto to Treblinka, the Jews made the choice to fight back. They smuggled in weapons and fought the Nazis for 28 days. In addition to armed resistance, they also wrote journals, letters, poems, drew pictures, and collected stories which they buried on the eve of the Uprising. They were determined that even after their deaths, their voices would not be silenced and the world would know what had happened. 

I have the incredible opportunity to do on-site research for my book this July. I will be traveling to Poland and Germany with the National WWII Museum to study the Holocaust and 20th century Poland under world-renowned historian Alexandra Richie, DPhil at a private university in Warsaw. I will also be able to visit various historical sites in Berlin, Warsaw, Krakow, and Gdańsk, intern at museums, and much more!

As you can imagine, this trip will be very expensive and the final payment is due April 2nd. While I'm working hard to pay for the bulk of my trip, I would be so grateful if you would consider helping me raise money for my airfare to Warsaw, Poland. 

If you donate $25 or more and live in the United States, I would be happy to send you an autographed copy of my WWII novel, Resist. I also have limited autographed copies of my novellas, It Took a War and Ain't We Got Fun available.

                                                                                  Donate Here

Regardless of whether you can donate or not, I hope you'll stick around as I begin this adventure! 


Tribute to a Paratrooper

Tony Zanzinger (1924-2017)
"I was out the other night and I heard our National Anthem being played and then I saw our flag flying. It was a sight I'll never forget. Looking at the flag I could not see the stars in the field of blue; instead I saw a picture of home and all of your faces. It sure does put a feeling in your heart. That's why I'm here, mom, so that I can help to keep all of you safe back home." - Tony Zanzinger in a letter to his mother

At a WWII event in 2015 I had the honor to meet Tony Zanzinger who served with the 501st PIR, 101st Airborne during WWII. After talking to him and hearing his incredible stories, I went home even more in awe of the Greatest Generation. I can truly credit much of my interest and admiration for the Airborne paratroopers to Tony. Tony's unit paralleled the 506th (Band of Brothers) as they fought in Normandy, Holland, Bastogne, and captured Hitler’s Eagle Nest in Berchtesgaden. I don't know how many people I told, "I met a paratrooper who played chopsticks on Hitler's piano!" He was truly a treasure of history, wisdom, and good ol' American grit. One of my favorite memories from the WWII event was watching Tony beside a 101st Airborne reenactor. I remember him saying, "It's like looking at myself." 

This picture of "Wild Bill" Guarnere and Tony Zanzinger just makes me happy. When Tony jumped into France he got separated from his unit. He fought side-by-side with paratroopers from the 506th and 82nd Airborne. Thank you to Tony's grandson, Patrick Bourque, for allowing me to share this picture. 

The world lost a true American hero on November 19th. Thank you for your sacrifice and service, Tony. It won't be forgotten. 


Operation Gratitude Collection Drive

Long time no post! Honestly, how does time go by so quickly? Anyway, here I am with a post about the Operation Gratitude collection drive I helped organize at the Eldred World War II Museum last weekend. Operation Gratitude is a 501c3 nonprofit organization that sends care packages and letters of appreciation to U.S. troops, first responders, veterans, military families, and wounded heroes. Their mission is to thank every American who serves. I'm going to share a bit about the collection drive and encourage you to host one in your community. You don't have to wait for a special holiday like Veterans Day to host an event. You can say thank you anytime of the year! 

Operation Gratitude has wishlist items listed on their website which is a good place to start. They also have certain care kits you can assemble such as The Patrol Care Kit, The Elements Care Kit, and Hygiene Care KitI chose the Elements Care Kit to keep the list of items needed more manageable for people donating, but everyone was very generous and donated enough items for various care kits!

We also made paracord “survival” bracelets. Paracord (parachute cord originally used during WWII) can hold up to 550 lbs of weight and gives the person wearing it 7.5 feet of cord to use in an emergency. Operation Gratitude includes a bracelet in each care package. Some of the ways paracord bracelets can be used are for building makeshift shelters, creating a harness to extract an injured person from a bad location, securing camouflage nets to trees or vehicles, extending a security strap or rope to reach and haul heavy objects, and to make a sling or splint. 

It gets more amazing. When you take out the nylon cords from inside a paracord the fine strings can be used as a trip line to secure an area, a sewing thread to repair gear, or emergency sutures to close a wound. But then it gets even MORE amazing. Paracord was even used to repair the Hubble Telescope in space! 

But most importantly, as Operation Gratitude states on their website, a paracord bracelet lets our heroic service men and women know we care, we remember and we appreciate them.

We also wrote letters of appreciation to our troops. A handwritten letter is great way to say thank you to our heroes! 

Ready to host your own collection drive? Check out Operation Gratitude to get all the details. One of their amazing volunteers will help you through the process!

Thank you to all our veterans and those who serve!